Posted tagged ‘Nutrition’

Socioeconomic status and food: A Stanford researcher observed families to learn more

August 8, 2017

Photo courtesy of Priya Fielding-Singh

Priya Fielding-Singh, a PhD candidate in sociology at Stanford, wanted to learn more about the relationship between socioeconomic status and diet. So she made observations and conducted in-depth interviews with parents and adolescents from 73 families across the socioeconomic spectrum throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. I recently spoke with her to learn about her study.

What inspired you to research the relationship between socioeconomic status and diet?

“Growing up, my family was a foster family and we took in many children that came from impoverished backgrounds. I think this early exposure to social inequality was formative in shaping my interests and propelling me into the field of sociology. I became interested in food the more that I learned about diet and disease prevention.

We have excellent large-scale, quantitative studies that show a socioeconomic gradient in diet quality in the United States. Thus, we know that socioeconomic status is one of a few key determinants of what and how people eat. But what we understand less well is why. I wanted to know: how do people’s socioeconomic conditions shape the way that they think about and consume food?”

How did you obtain your data?

“In almost every family, I interviewed, separately, at least one parent and one adolescent to better understand both family members’ perspectives. I also conducted 100 hours of observations with families across socioeconomic status, where I spent months with each family and went about daily life with them.

I saw very clearly that food choices are shaped by myriad different external and internal influences that I only gained exposure to when I spent hours with families on trips to supermarkets, birthday parties, church services, nail salons and back-to-school nights. Importantly, I was able to collect data on family members’ exchanges around food, including discussions and arguments. What families eat is often the product of negotiations and compromises.”

What was it like to observe the family dynamics first-hand?

 “I’m a very curious person, as well as a people person, so I felt in my element conducting ethnographic observations. I was touched by how generously families welcomed me into their lives and shared their experiences with me. Because families were so open with me — and in many cases, did not attempt to shelter me from the challenging aspects of family life — observations were an incredibly illuminative part of the research.”

Based on your study, how is diet transmitted from parents to children?

“I found that parents play a central role in shaping teenagers’ beliefs around food, but there was often a difference in how adolescents perceived their mothers and fathers in relation to diet. Adolescents generally saw their mothers as the healthy parent and their fathers as less invested in healthy eating. So, feeding families and monitoring the dietary health of families largely remains moms’ job, as I explained in a recent article.

In addition, I found that how mothers talked to adolescents about food varied across socioeconomic status. My Stanford colleague, Jennifer Wang, and I wrote a paper explaining these differences. More affluent families had discussions that highlighted the importance of consuming high quality food, which may strengthen messages about healthy eating. In contrast, less privileged families had more discussions about the price of food that highlighted the unaffordability of healthy eating.

Finally, I found that lower-income parents sometimes used food to buffer their children against the hardships of life in poverty. They often had to deny their children’s requests for bigger purchases because those purchases were out of financial reach, but they had enough money to say yes to their kids’ food requests. So low-income parents used food to nourish their children physically, but they also used food to nourish their children emotionally.”

What were your favorite foods as a child?

“My favorite food growing up is the same as my favorite food today: ice cream. Beyond that, the diet I ate as a child was very different than the one I follow now. I grew up in a family of carnivores, but I became a vegetarian in my early 20s and never looked back.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Reimagining Nutrition Education: Doctor-chefs teach Stanford medical students how to cook

January 30, 2017
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Photograph courtesy of Michelle Hausman

Stanford medical students still learn traditional topics like anatomy, genetics and neuroscience. But now, they can also learn how to cook, thanks to a new hands-on course developed in part by Stanford’s Michelle Hauser, MD.

A former Le Cordon Bleu chef, Hauser is currently an internal medicine-primary care attending for Stanford residents and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. She teamed up with Stanford pediatrics instructor Maya Adam, MD; physician Tracy Rydel, MD; nutrition researcher Christopher Gardner, PhD; physician-chef Julia Nordgren, MD; and Stanford chef, David Iott, to launch the new class, which is featured in a video.

Hauser said the course aims to teach future clinicians how to cook healthy food, so they can more effectively counsel their patients on nutrition and diet. Intrigued, I spoke with her recently.

Why did you introduce this course?

“Diet is the most significant risk factor for disability and premature death in the US. However, less than one-third of medical school and residency programs offer a dedicated nutrition course to their students. When courses are available, many schools use outdated, overly long and complicated online modules rather than in-person nutrition instruction. They often just focus on nutrients, whereas patients think of nutrition in terms of food. And most schools don’t teach how to effectively counsel patients to change their behavior around eating — people know it is healthy to eat more vegetables, but how do they accomplish this? We need to better prepare physicians to treat the underlying causes of disease and to prevent diet and lifestyle-related diseases from occurring in the first place.”

How can your course help?

“Teaching kitchens are the perfect, hands-on medium to help doctors learn about food. By learning to prepare delicious, healthy food for ourselves, we become healthier — and studies show that physicians with healthy habits are more likely to counsel patients on those habits. Additionally, it’s more fun and memorable to learn about food and nutrition while cooking and sharing meals together than it is to sit in a lecture hall.

As a platform to teach about nutrition, our new teaching kitchen elective focuses on how to prepare healthy meals based on plants and whole foods, a diet that is ideal for the majority of the population. We also teach a concept called the “protein flip” — instead of having the center of your plate be a large piece of meat, you use meat as a garnish for a plate full of plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Think veggie chicken stir-fry with brown rice or a main course salad with a small portion of grilled salmon.

Our sessions use a flipped classroom format. Before class, students view engaging preparatory videos online (and many of these are available through Stanford’s Food and Health series). At Stanford’s teaching kitchen, they watch the chefs’ cooking demonstrations and then lace up their aprons and start chopping and cooking. In addition, Tracy Rydel, Maya Adam, Christopher Gardner and faculty from other medical programs are cooking alongside the medical students to represent the lay cook’s perspective, as well as spread the idea of using teaching kitchens to others in the Bay Area and beyond. At the end of each session, we all share and eat together.”

How do you make healthy food appealing?

“Healthy food has gotten a bad rap for far too long. We need to make sure that healthy food is delicious if we expect people — including ourselves — to eat it so that it can nourish our bodies and prevent nutrition-related chronic diseases. Food is a huge part of all of our cultural identities and is intricately linked with many of our fondest memories. I often see medical professionals in training and in practice tell patients to stop eating a whole variety of things — many with personal and cultural significance — without helping them figure out what and how to eat differently. And these conversations often make it sound like the patient needs a ‘special’ diet inappropriate for the whole family. Instead, we need to celebrate the togetherness of sharing healthy food.

 For the final project, the students will make favorite healthy foods that mean something to them. For instance, I would make hummus, tabouli and falafel wraps (falafels rolled up in warm whole-wheat pita bread with chopped tomatoes, scallions, cucumbers and spring mix drizzled with lemon-tahini sauce). As a vegetarian with a dairy allergy, my Irish-immigrant family’s traditional Christmas dinner normally left me with a lonely potato and a few token veggies. However, a few years back I cooked this Middle Eastern meal for my family and it was a hit. And this year, my mom requested that we make the meal as the centerpiece of our Christmas spread!”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Resolution got you down? Stanford expert recommends “everything in moderation”

January 6, 2017
Photo by congerdesign

Photo by congerdesign

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year is the exception. My life has gotten too sedentary as a freelance writer who works at home. Like most Americans, I need to exercise more and eat healthier. It’s time to stop the holiday binge eating.

So I welcomed the good advice of Marily Oppezzo, PhD, a registered dietician and postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who specializes in helping people improve their health and well-being. In a recent Stanford BeWell article, she provides guidance to those hoping to make healthier lifestyle choices.

Oppezzo recommends that we stop classifying foods as sinful or good. “While some decisions are arguably healthier than others, we certainly don’t need to get our character and sense of self involved, a mind game that sets health up as binary, rather than a spectrum,” she says in the article. This all-or-nothing thinking, she argues, can result in binge eating — eating one “bad” cookie can lead to eating a whole bag, since you’re already “off the wagon.”

Instead, she says it is better to relish the taste of your favorite food without “pouring guilt all over it,” because you’re more likely to be satisfied and eat less of it.

If you make only one small dietary change, she suggests that you eat more vegetables. “Find one vegetable you love that is quick and easy for you to prepare and eat — and even defrosting frozen spinach to add to a soup or mixing in pre-packaged riced cauliflower … counts! Bring your veggie to work, and add [it] to three lunches next week,” says Oppezzo.

In terms of exercise, she said she thinks walking is particularly underrated. Walking can help your joints, improve your cognitive and creative thinking, reduce your stress level and provide a way to socialize with friends, she said.

However, it is important to be realistic when setting your health goals for this year — and tailor your plan to fit your personal likes and limitations. “In fact, it is important to weigh the factors of culture, individual circumstance, and motivational readiness when advising any (very young to very old) age segment of the population,” Oppezzo said.

And a parting word of wisdom? “’Everything in moderation’ turns out to be so true!,” Oppezzo said.

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Bread baking becomes business for Stanford infectious disease researcher

December 14, 2016
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Photograph courtesy of Fiona Strouts

Making bread is an art, science and passion project for Fiona Strouts, PhD, a Stanford research scientist in infectious diseases.

Her baking began as a hobby several years ago, but now Strouts operates a business, L’atelier du Pain, and sells her whole-grain bread at the Portola Valley Farmers Market. I exchanged emails with her recently about her work as a professional baker and Stanford researcher.

How did you start baking bread?

“I learned to make bread about eight years ago from my Italian housemate when I lived in London during graduate school. She taught me to make 100 percent whole-wheat sourdough bread that we would bake together on the weekends. The bread was fairly dense, and provided good fuel for cycling.

I now make whole-grain, naturally leavened breads using mostly California-grown wheat. The favorite seems to be the Sprouted Lentil & Rye bread. But my personal favorite for every-day eating is the Sonora Field Blend; it has great flavor and aroma. Sonora wheat was one of the first varieties planted in California in the early 1800s.” 

I’ve heard that you grind your own wheat. Why?

“Yes, I stone-grind my own wheat because I want to capture the flavor and nutrients, which come mostly from the germ and bran portions of the wheat berry. I buy bags of wheat berries directly from farmers, and then mill them into flour right before I mix the dough. Milling the wheat myself also ensures that the flour is 100 percent whole grain. Wheat is very nutrient-dense compared with other grains, but only when it is in the truly whole-grain form — nothing added and nothing removed from the original wheat grain.”

Why did you decide to turn your hobby into a business?

“A number of things inspired me, and they all came together a few months ago. I grew up in France, and in the village where my parents live there was a local baker and friend. The highlight of the week was going to the market on Saturday and then stopping by his house to pick up bread. There would be others from the village there and we’d share a savory pastry and a glass of wine before picking up the bread and going home for lunch. I miss that sense of community and I wanted to re-create something similar.

Then, almost a year ago I started learning more about all of the farmers in California who are passionate about sustainable agriculture and who are growing different varieties of wheat —both ancient and modern. I loved discovering the different flavors and properties of these wheats for bread making.

In addition, I’ve always been very interested in health and population health. Making whole-grain, naturally leavened breads is a way to provide a healthy option for people.”

How do you juggle baking, running a business and doing research?

“Good question! It takes organization and prioritization. I used to bike race, and the training required a lot of discipline. But starting the business was less structured and it took longer than I thought it would, as I was doing it in my spare time. I spent several weekends practicing baking large batches of bread and sharing it with some of my labmates, which I think they appreciated. The market is one day per week and it’s a manageable scale for one person. I’ve reduced my full-time equivalent [work] hours accordingly to be able to do both and my advisor has been very supportive.”

Explain your research at Stanford. Has it given you any insights into bread making?

“I work in the lab of David Relman, MD, on a project focused on improving the diagnosis and prognosis of systemic infections in humans, using sequencing of both microbial nucleic acids and host transcripts derived from blood. I am trying to understand what those blood profiles look like during states of health. And whether we’re able to detect the presence of bacteria in the blood of healthy people, to help interpret what we see in sick individuals with suspected infections.

My background has helped me understand sourdough bread making from the aspect of microbial fermentation and the effects of time and temperature. I’ve actually become quite a keen home fermenter. I have various other projects going — including yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, shoyu and miso — for which I converted the dishwasher into a fermentation chamber with a little space heater. Both baking and cooking are science, so it has also helped more generally in figuring out the properties of different types of wheat. I run a lot of bread experiments at home!”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

“I wasn’t afraid to fail at my dream”: A physician-chef discusses her unusual career

May 3, 2016
Photo courtesy of Michelle Hauser

Photo courtesy of Michelle Hauser

How do you combine internal medicine, nutrition, culinary arts and public policy into a single career? Ask Michelle Hauser, MD, who has integrated her eclectic training into a unified research program to help improve the health and wellness of people in underserved communities.

Although Hauser always dreamed of being a physician, she began her career as a Le Cordon Bleu chef with a culinary internship at Alice Water’s famous restaurant, Chez Panisse. Hauser then put herself through college at Humboldt State University by teaching at local cooking schools, before going on to Harvard to earn her MD and MPA.

Hauser is now a postdoctoral research fellow in cardiovascular disease prevention at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and practices primary care at Fair Oaks Health Center, a clinic for those with limited access to health care in Redwood City. She is also on the board of directors of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. I recently spoke with Hauser about lifestyle medicine and medical care for the underserved: 

Why did you become a chef when you dreamed of being a doctor?

I grew up poor in rural Iowa, without a support system or parents who had gone to college. My high school guidance counselor actually laughed at me when I told her I wanted to be a doctor. She said, “let’s find something more suitable for you to do,” and went on to suggest that I work at a local factory.

So I went to culinary school because I love to cook. And everyone told me that I’d never be a doctor, so I thought maybe they were right. As I finished culinary school, however, I knew that I wasn’t afraid to fail at my dream of becoming a physician. I would, however, regret not trying.

How did you become interested in treating medically underserved patients?

Coming from an underserved background inspired me to focus on medical care for the underserved. Additionally, I became very interested in the prevention of chronic disease —particularly via lifestyle changes — and the disparities in access to preventive care and services.

I’m currently involved with Fair Oaks Health Center’s care transformation project to increase and improve wellness resources for patients with metabolic risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. All resources and classes are available in Spanish and English. It’s truly rewarding to work with a diverse group of physicians, nurses, dieticians, psychologists and health educators to brainstorm and test new models of chronic disease prevention and treatment in this type of underserved clinical setting.

What is lifestyle medicine?

Lifestyle medicine is a field of medicine that encompasses research, prevention and treatment of disease caused by lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol use, poor sleep and chronic stress. These lifestyle factors are currently responsible for nearly 80 percent of both chronic diseases and healthcare spending.

A goal of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and lifestyle medicine in general, is to improve personal and population health — adding both life to years and years to life. I was inspired to join the board of directors of ACLM because I fervently believe that healthcare needs to better address the root causes of disease and not just treat the downstream effects.

How can you motivate people to make lifestyle changes and stick with them?

This question is the elephant in the room. While there are many examples of people — myself included — who have turned their lives around with improved lifestyle habits, we have yet to find the perfect set of instructions for everyone to change their behaviors.

However, there are many promising techniques out there and much research currently being done. For instance, Brian Wansink, PhD, professor and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, has done a lot of research investigating how we constantly make mindless choices — particularly about what and how much to eat. He has shown that if we swap healthy items for unhealthy ones in the places that we’re most likely to select our food, we won’t even notice that we’ve suddenly opted to eat healthier.

We also need to change the way preventive care and lifestyle-based treatments for chronic diseases are paid for. Unless government and private insurance programs reimburse these services, most people will not have access to them.

How do you use nutrition and culinary education in your practice?

When I was in medical school, we piloted and evaluated a program that used shared medical appointments that incorporated cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes with primary care management for patients with cardiovascular risk factors. We found the program to be feasible, cost-effective and well received by patients.

I went on to conduct similar group sessions in my residency primary care clinic, and am now working on several projects that utilize cooking skills for disease prevention and treatment in my current practice and research.

With your busy work life, do you still have time to cook for yourself?

Absolutely! I cook most of the meals that I eat. These are not generally the fancy fare that I prepared in restaurants or culinary classes, but satisfying, delicious and healthy, all the same. I occasionally post about these recipes and answer food and nutrition-related questions on my blog, Chef In Residency. Pictures of other quick meals that I make on weekdays can be found on my Chef In Residency Instagram page.

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.


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